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Praying Wheels at Soonum

William Simpson (1823-1899)


Signed, inscribed with title and 'To S R Hutt' and dated '10th November 1896'


14 ¼ x 10 inches

'Chris Beetles Summer Show 2024', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, June-September 2024, no 26

William Simpson was commissioned by the London lithography firm, Day and Sons, to travel to India to document sites in and around Delhi associated with the Revolt of 1857 against the rule of the British East India Company. Simpson arrived in Calcutta in 1859 and spent almost three years travelling extensively around the country. He visited Soonum, a small village in the Himalayas, in 1862, shortly before his return to London. During his travels, he produced a large number of rapid pencil drawings which formed the preparatory studies for the watercolours that he completed upon his return to England. The present watercolour, dated 1896, over thirty years after his visit to Soonum, is similar in composition to a work in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum dated 1862, suggesting that Simpson worked up multiple watercolours from his preparatory sketches.

Prayer wheels are commonly used in Buddhist and Tibetan culture. Mantras are carved into the wheels and when rotated are said to accumulate positive karma and multiply the efficacy of the mantra carved into them. The wheels recorded at Soonum by William Simpson are positioned so as to be rotated constantly by flowing water. It is said that the water that touches these wheels is blessed and carries purifying powers.

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